Monday, March 05, 2007

Is agriculture sustainable?

One of our freelance columnists, Don Curlee, wrote a column that appeared in the Capital Press recently, which attracted the attention of at least one blogger.

The Virtual Farmgirl blog features a post that mentions Don's column. The piece that Don wrote reflects his opinion, so I won't attempt to speak for him or reply for him. But I did find the Virtual Farmgirl post interesting. Everyone from family farmers to "corporate" farmers are facing the reality that consumers are seeking more foods from "organic" or "sustainable" growing practices. And in some cases farmers benefit from getting some sort of certification for their crops because they can sell there crops for a higher price.

However, I can't help but wonder where people think the bulk of our nation's food will come form if, for the sake of argument, all U.S. farms and ranches followed someone's definition of "organic" or "sustainable," which I can only assume means little or no pesticide or herbicide use and little or no chemical fertilizers are used. Won't that mean that overall crop production in the U.S. would drop, as yields fall due to reduced nutrients and more losses to bugs and weeds? Will Americans eat less? Or will we just import more food from foreign countries? And will those countries adopt our "organic" standards?

I also can't help but wonder how many people who want to tell farmers not to use chemicals to help things grow adopt the same standards in their own homes. What do they do when ants or cockroaches or mice or rats invade their homes? Do they call an exterminator? Break out the bug bomb?

The public needs to realize that the "evil" they perceive in agriculture is, in part, created by things like ever-growing hoops farmers have to jump through for so-called environmental protection. It's getting more and more difficult for a small, family operation to grow food and fiber in this country, but the demand for food grows ever larger as the population grows taking over ever-larger pieces of lands that were once farmed. That's what's threatening the sustainability of American agriculture and the family farm.

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